While the skiing fans and snowboarding enthusiasts are celebrating the first snowfall of the year, many of us don’t share the excitement. Winter brings its share of glory and its share of headaches – especially if you’re on a fixed income. Along with holiday expenses, winter also brings a hit to everyone’s monthly budget for heat and power. Luckily, there are lots of ways to save money on utilities during winter! Let’s look at some tips for winter savings.
1. Hot Water Heaters
Your hot water heater is a large appliance, and keeping the water in the tank warm isn’t cheap. An effective way to help your heater do its job efficiently is to put an insulating blanket over it. This will help keep the heat inside the tank, so that your heater doesn’t have to work as hard to keep the water warm
Another great way to get the most savings out of your heater is by lowering the hot water temperature to just what you need to have a comfortable shower. This can take some trial and error, but once you get it to just the right temperature, you’ll be saving money by not heating your water to higher degree than you need.
2. Furnace Maintenance
A well-maintained furnace can save you hundreds throughout the year, and filters play a large role in that. Allowing your filters to remain covered in dust and debris not only impacts the air quality in your home, it also raises costs by forcing your furnace to work extra hard to push that expensive warm air through. Replace your filters regularly, using the instructions on the filter packaging as a guide. Also consider having a qualified technician test the efficiency of your furnace. If your unit is getting old, you may benefit from switching to a heat pump or another, more efficient, mode of heating.
3. Turn it Down a Notch
Alright dad, you win this round. Let’s face it – it’s more cost efficient to put on an extra blanket than turn up the furnace. Roll the thermostat back a degree or two at night and when everyone’s at work or school. If you’re up for it, you can turn it off altogether when no one’s home, and the first person to get home from school or work turns it back on. The house won’t take long to warm up and you’ll save lots of money by having your furnace off the majority of the day. And, like Mom used to say, put on a sweater if you’re cold! But if you like walking around in shorts and a tank top all year, be prepared to pay extra for the privilege.
4. Cover and Seal
Heat lost from poorly insulated windows can be costly. If replacing your windows is out of the question, invest instead in a low cost weather-stripping or window covering kit. Check doors for drafts and cover or seal them. Something as simple as a rolled up towel at the base of a door, or foam strips along the sides, can prevent cold air from getting in (and warm air from getting out). Check outlets on exterior walls as these can lose more heat than you might expect (a few quarter inch gaps might not seem like much, but four of them add up to an inch-wide hole in your wall!). These can be sealed for little to no cost with caulk or special foam (consult a specialist for instruction). Check your provincial government’s web site or a talk with a representative. Many provinces have no-cost packages available to insulate these small money-wasters.
Don’t forget about your attic. Because heat rises, your attic opening could be sucking up a fair amount of warm air. Even covering the edges of the opening with old blankets can save a few dollars.
5. Warm Up Your House With Curtains
I can remember my mom going through the house at different times of the day opening and closing the curtains. Now, I do the same. When the sun is pouring through the east windows in the morning, I open those curtains to let the sun’s warmth in. When the sun moves to the west side, I close the east side curtains and open the west ones. At night, I close all the curtains to keep the heat in.
For even more savings, change your thinner drapes to thicker ones or even foam-backs. Good quality drapes act as insulation, helping prevent heat loss through your windows.
6. Swap Your Bulbs
If you’re decorating your home for the holidays, make sure you’re buying energy efficient LED strings of light, rather than the conventional ones. They cost a little more up front but they use far less energy and tend to last for years. The money you save adds up quickly.
Besides holiday decorations, consider replacing your incandescent or Compact Fluorescent (CFL – the curly ones) light bulbs with LED bulbs as they burn out. Though they cost more up front, LED bulbs tend to last about twice as long as CFL bulbs and about 25 times longer than incandescent – and they use far less energy. If you’re worried about losing the soft glow of your incandescent bulbs, don’t be. LED bulbs come in an array of colours and intensities, so you can get that incandescent coziness and still benefit from the savings. A note: Although they still perform better overall, some light fixtures might shorten the lifespan of LED bulbs. Be sure to talk to an electrician or the specialist at your local hardware store to make sure you’re getting the best bulbs for your fixtures.
And be sure to check your province’s energy efficiency programs, as outlined in Our Guide to Saving on Energy Bills, to save even more money.